Former Harvard Endowment CEO on the Financial Crisis

In the fall of last year, the business school at Yale held a panel that included the former CEO of Harvard Management Company.

On Monday, Jane Mendillo SOM ’84 and Sandra Urie SOM ’85 joined [Linda] Mason [SOM ’80] in a School of Management panel discussion titled, “The Pioneers: Celebrating Women Leaders of Yale SOM.” The event was part of this year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of women attending Yale College and the 150th anniversary of women attending the University at the School of Art. Although the SOM itself is not celebrating a specific anniversary of coeducation, the school has been participating in University-wide events by hosting a variety of programming focused on women in business.

Panel highlights SOM female alumnae, Yale Daily News

She shared what the endowment team went through during the financial crisis.

The Harvard Management in the Financial Crisis is the thing that I am the proudest of. It was probably the six years that I worked the hardest I have ever worked in my life. Put all the other years together and they wouldn’t even equal those six.

It was very scary, it was very difficult. There were a lot of things built in to the problem when I entered the scene that were impossible to undo. We just had to work at it and work at it, it took time and effort and sleepless nights. But the thing I am most proud of is that the small group that I worked with within my organization everyday, there was a time in the financial crisis in September and October of 2008 when we came in at 7 in the morning everyday and said, “what do we need to do today to get Harvard to a place where it can be tomorrow?”

It was a true crisis, no liquidity, no opportunity to invest, all kinds of leverage, it was a nightmare. But we had a group of 4-5 people that came to the table every morning and said, “ok, here’s the crappy thing we found out last night, here’s what we need to do today, and here’s how we are going to start fixing this.” So I feel a tremendous accomplishment of teamwork, facing a crisis, being unflappable, and coming through it.

‘Pioneering’ Alumnae Convene at Yale School of Management, Yale SOM

Managing money while managing your career is not an easy task.

But our plans and our decisions were not just about limitations—not moving, not changing jobs. Quite the opposite. When I took a job running Wellesley College’s endowment, it meant managing less money than I was overseeing at Harvard. Ralph, having built his own consulting practice, was really encouraging, “You’re going to love being able to build your own team, setting the ground rules, and having direct involvement with the campus and your board.” He was right; the professional development for me through that experience was huge, and it turned out to be a great move.

When I came back to Harvard as CEO at the peak of the financial crisis, both of us felt that taking that job was absolutely the right decision even though the early months were incredibly difficult. Harvard’s endowment portfolio was over-levered and under-liquid. The university had a lot of plans based on decades of consistent endowment growth. It was one day after another of difficult revelations and difficult decisions.

Values Proposition: Jane Mendillo ’84 on Partnership, Yale SOM

The Memorial Church at Harvard.
Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

Post by Marcelino Pantoja